Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Friday, November 30, 2007

Not The Daily Show, With Some Writer

This is almost better than the Daily Show itself!!

FraudEx Update Supreme Denial in California

Having already lost their appeal, FraudEx Ground executives must have been expecting something like this:

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/

The Supreme Court of California today denied the final appeal of FedEx Ground Package System, Inc. to overturn the state trial court's decision finding the company's drivers to be employees and not independent contractors.
In August the California Court of Appeals also denied the appeal in the landmark Estrada vs. FedEx Ground Package System, Inc. case, and determined that the FedEx Ground drivers were entitled to reimbursement for approximately $6 million in additional expenses, bringing the total damages to about $11 million for 200 drivers.
"The California Supreme Court decision may be only one line, but it speaks volumes about the dedication of these incredibly courageous drivers who have never given up hope and have never lost faith in the American legal system," said Lynn Rossman Faris, the Oakland, California attorney for the plaintiffs.
When the Appeals Court ruled, it commented that, "FedEx's control over every exquisite detail of the drivers' performance, including the color of their socks and the style of their hair, supports the trial court's conclusion that the drivers are employees... "

It's just a shame... this comes too late to help the nearly 1,000 drivers in California who have suffered such cruel retaliation, as a consequence of the Appeals Court upholding of the Estrada ruling.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mall Wart 2

The other day I suggested that the sympathies of some corporate lawyers might be misplaced if they regarded a $62 million judgement against Walmart as "exorbitant." They were found guilty-- of simply not paying thousands of hourly employees for all the hours they had worked. Shocking, right? Might make someone who had the misfortune to work at a place like that try to form a union and make things better? Sure... as long as you don't mind getting fired.

Wal-Mart breaks the law, gets punished, wins anyway
Retailer fends off unions, thanks to weak federal watchdogs with few teeth
By Michael J. Mishak and David McGrath Schwartz, Las Vegas Sun

Here is how Wal-Mart, at a cost of a couple of thousand dollars, illegally beat back an attempt to unionize its stores in Nevada:
Seven years ago, as Wal-Mart corporate executives proclaimed Nevada ground zero in an attempt to battle unionizing the giant retailer, three workers at Wal-Mart stores in Southern Nevada took the first steps toward organizing. Avis Hammond, Norine Sorensen and Diana Griego talked to fellow employees about the union and passed out fliers in front of stores, activities clearly allowed under federal labor laws.
Management stepped in. The three employees were told to stop. They were questioned, threatened and insulted, according to later findings by the government. Wal-Mart stripped one worker of his union fliers and denied another a promotion.
The union seeking to represent workers asked for help from the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency charged with enforcing labor law. The workers wanted Wal-Mart to act within the law so they could continue to try to organize.

That was in 2000.
Last month - seven years, two months and seven days after the first charge was filed - the NLRB issued its ruling: Wal-Mart acted illegally.
The punishment: The retailer must pay lost wages to one of the employees, which apparently comes to a few thousand dollars. It also must post notices in its three stores disclosing its federal labor law violations.
The outcome: The union has long since given up trying to organize from within the stores. The three workers quit the company.
"The problem of delay has been with the NLRB ever since it was created in 1935," said James Gross, a professor of labor policy and arbitration at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. But even in an era of weak federal enforcement of labor laws, "seven years for a case involving three employees is unconscionable."
The outcome in Las Vegas is not unusual in today's labor climate. Federal enforcement of labor laws has grown weaker over the decades as business interests and their allies in Congress and the White House have beaten back serious attempts at reform.
Federal oversight has become "an outrageous system that's almost entirely toothless," said Gordon Lafer, a professor at the University of Oregon's Labor Education and Research Center.
"For workers there is no sense of justice," Lafer said. "For employers it's a rational business decision to break the law. And it's not just the rogue, outlying employers that do this...."

The labor board found merit in each of the Nevada cases and filed a consolidated formal complaint against Wal-Mart in September 2001, referring the matter to an administrative law judge.
A year later, the judge issued his decision favoring the employees. Wal-Mart then began its legal moves, ultimately appealing the decision to the labor board itself.
The retailer exhausted its legal options in April 2003 - but the case sat with the board for four more years.
Asked this week about the delays, the NLRB defended its record, pointing out that most of the cases it receives from across the country are settled and never make it to the board. Some cases, particularly those that are litigated, take much longer.
NLRB spokeswoman Patricia Gilbert added: "We had quite a bit of turnover (of board members) at one point...."

None of this brings comfort to Hammond, one of the three Las Vegas Wal-Mart workers discriminated against for union activity. (The union lost track of the former employees; the Sun found Hammond but not the other two Nevada workers.)
Hammond was a 10-year employee whose job was to greet customers at the door. He ran afoul of the company by distributing a union news release to fellow workers, a copy of which he gave to D istrict Manager Chuck Salby.
"If you believe that, you're not worthy of working at Wal-Mart," Salby said, according to the NLRB findings. Salby tore up the news release and threw it in a trash can.
Hammond was disciplined for passing out the copies to other employees.
And so began the seven-year delay that effectively killed the attempt to organize.
"It's almost a mockery," said Fred Feinstein, former general counsel for the NLRB during the Clinton administration. "How does this in any way protect the right of workers to join a union? That right was extinguished seven years ago when Wal-Mart treated its workers illegally because of union support.
"Would any employee at that store now think they have a federally protected right to join a union?"
Hammond moved to Arkansas after leaving Wal-Mart. Reached there this week and asked to recount his Wal-Mart experience, he demurred.
"That was seven years ago," he said. "Now I'm 83 years old. My memory is going."

Unbef#%kinglievable!! Imagine how much better things would be if a true progressive was on the board at WalMart.... oh wait, Isn't that the board Hillary Clinton's on?!?! Head me to the nearest Costco--it's time to buy some Rolaids in bulk!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

FedEx HD

Bill Gardner has a message of hope for those toiling under the yoke of Fraudex!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sympathy for the Devil?

In looking into the "independent contractor" misclassification scam over at FraudEx, I've stumbled across a whole cottage industry of law firms who specialize in defending corporations against their own employees. One such firm is FoxRothschild, LLP with offices on both coasts. They have an interesting little blog devoted to the pitfalls of being an employer in these litigious times:

Posted on October 15, 2007 by Mark Tabakman

Class Action Liquidated Damages Award of $62 Million Against Wal-Mart

In the continuation of a class action that has been going on for some time, Wal-Mart has recently been ordered by the court to pay a class of 125,304 employees roughly $62 million in liquidated damages for Walmart's violating state wage and break laws by refusing to allow employees to record their hours worked in the computerized pay system. This action had the effect of employees not being paid for all time they worked. In addition, Wal-Mart prohibited employees from taking need rest breaks which they had been promised, thereby further denying employees rightfully earned wages. The jury determined that Wal-Mart saved $1,031,430.00 by denying employees the right to record their hours in the computerized pay system and $48,258,111.00 by prohibiting promised rest breaks. Taken together, the estimated savings totaled $49,289,541.00.
What this case highlights is that liquidated damages are a real possibility in a class action. Such damages are not viewed under the law as a fine or penalty but are deemed to be more in the vein of “waiting time” damages. The employees are awarded the liquidated damages as a remedy for the long delay in their receiving their justly deserved wages, at the time they were due. In this case, 98.81% of the 125,304 class employees were owed liquidated damages as determined by an expert. The dollar amount arrived at was $62,253,000.00. The number could have been much greater as the state law at issue required a $500.00 penalty for each violation of rest break violation.
This award is, to put it mildly, exorbitant. The ostensible excessiveness of the liquidated damages portion of the award does not detract from the fundamental fact that such damages are an all too common component of a successful class action. The basic lesson to be taken from this is for employers to be ever cognizant that their failure to comply with all wage-hour laws and regulations may provide the fodder for the filing of a class action lawsuit and the imposition of large-dollar damage awards.

From the perspective of a union-busting law-firm, then, the real tragedy is that Wal-Mart got caught breaking the law, and so must pay a tiny fraction-- of the millions it has robbed workers over the years-- back to a certain category of its workers. From our perspective, however, this judgement offers a slender ray of hope. The amount is too small to damage this monstrous, abusive company, that is certain. Yet the amount is large enough to catch the notice of other, albeit smaller, employers, who may now think twice before they rip off their own employees in quite such a blatant manner.

Checks and Balances?

Our hometown paper, The Providence Journal, reports on the Senior Senator from Rhode Island's comments to the local Bar Association:

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed decried President Bush’s attempts to “disrupt the balance of powers” between the three branches of government, telling a lawyers' group that the president is using “dubious constitutional theories” to exert his authority unchecked by Congress.
Bush “has taken the notion of separation of powers, which I think is an idea that has proved its worth over several centuries, and tried to eviscerate it,” Reed said as he and fellow Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse spoke to the Federal Bar Association’s Rhode Island chapter during a breakfast meeting at the Providence Biltmore Hotel.
After three administrations and 16 years in Washington, D.C., Reed said he is struck by the various means that Bush, a Republican, has used to extend his authority.
Since 2001, Bush has used 152 “signing statements” to reserve the right to ignore or reinterpret measures that he has signed into law, Reed said. Also, Bush has used executive orders and legal opinions to assert his power, and he has ignored “bona fide” requests from Congress for information, he said.
“All of these I think raise the serious question of where is the executive going,” Reed said. “I believe that we need serious checks and balances on the president. I think it’s not only just to demonstrate the prerogative of the Congress, but also it provides, I think, for much better government.”
Reed said he hopes that members of the administration are beginning to realize that congressional oversight can be a help and not a hindrance.
“One of the sad facts of the whole operation in Iraq is that there was no serious congressional review of the any of the plans for occupation,” Reed said. “The Congress -- the Republican Congress -- was simply supine. And as a result, there was no plan.”

The good Senator is spot-on accurate in his assessment of the Republican Congress through 2006 as "simply supine." Some of us are beginning to wonder if that assessment may be mostly correct when applied to the Democratic Congress we elected in 2006! Please, if you haven't already done so, use some of the action buttons on this blog to put the heat on Congress!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dick Cheney: That's Funny

It's not fair to make this guy laugh with his bad ticker and all, but...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Ancestral Home

Hello friends and neighbors! This has been a good Thanksgiving break for Ulysses and his family. We've enjoyed a nice visit to the progressive island of peace and learning that is Ithaca, New York. While there is much to give thanks for on a personal basis, I can't help but consider some of the glaring inequities and problems that plague our entire nation. We travelled through Richford, New York, on our way here-- the birthplace of that most famous of Robber Barons, John D. Rockefeller. Now Richford is still mired in a crushing atmosphere of Northern Appalachian rural poverty that is downright shocking. Why didn't any of Rockefeller's wealth make it back to his home village? The answer of course is depressingly simple. Hardly anybody takes any notice of poor folks in a little hillbily enclave like Richford... better to donate money to Cornell University twenty-five miles away. After all, at least there your family name will grace a building used by students likely to go on and prosper after graduation.

John Edwards asks us not to merely drive past the poverty in places like Richford, but to commit ourselves to improving the plight of poor folks in this country. The mainstream media may delight in repeating foolish crap about $400 haircuts, but I think Edwards truly desires to make things better. So today, in addition to thanks for all the bounty so many of us enjoy, maybe we could spare a few moments to consider what reforms we sorely need in this country-- before the suffering of millions can be effectively eased.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Headzup: How Republicans Will Steal The '08 Election

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!! Let's be thankful for what we can still do as free people!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

State Secrets

ACLU Responds to Federal Court Ruling in "State Secrets" Lawsuit About Warrantless Wiretapping (11/16/2007)

SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled today that a charity that sued President Bush for engaging in unconstitutional surveillance can pursue its case in court. The Bush administration had asked the appellate court to dismiss the suit on the grounds that the very subject matter of the litigation – the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program – was a state secret. The Ninth Circuit rejected this argument, noting that the government had publicly acknowledged the surveillance program and that senior officials had discussed the program in press conferences and statements....

Jameel Jaffer, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, had this to say about the matter:
"As the court properly recognized, the government should not be permitted to shut down litigation simply by asserting that a case implicates state secrets. In the al-Haramain case and many others, it's clear that the executive branch is using the state secrets privilege not to protect legitimate national security information but to shield the government and its agents from accountability for systemic violations of the Constitution. A state secrets privilege that operates in this way serves neither national security nor the country's broader interest in the rule of law."

Here again we're witnessing the ill effects of the "post-9/11 syndrome" that has so corrupted the Cheney/Bush regime in Washington, D.C. The need for some secrecy in chasing down active terrorists is legitimate. Yet for these crooks, the collapse of the Twin Towers in Gotham signalled the collapse of constitutional safeguards for all Americans' civil liberties. They've trampled on the Fourth Amendment so hard, you could be excused for thinking it was effectively revoked!

For six years the Rethugs have pretty much been given carte blanche by the Congress and the Courts to do as they please. This 9th Circuit decision reassures us that at least some of our nation's judiciary hasn't been corrupted into rubber-stamping this budding militarist dictatorship.

For now, I truly believe that we cannot expect our representatives, Republican or Democratic, in D.C., to resist the power of huge telecom corporations and the military-industrial comnbine. We citizens need to squawk loudly in defense of our Bill of Rights! Write not only to Washington, but also to the editor of your local paper... eternal vigilance surely is the price of liberty in our times.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Heave-Ho! Cheney must go!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Writer's Strike

Barbara Ehrenreich has a clever piece on her blog about the writers' strike out in Hollywood. She admits that writers don't gain public sympathy in quite the same way as coalminers:

a screenwriters’ strike is not as emotionally compelling as a strike by janitors or farm-workers. Screenwriters are often well-paid – when they are paid. All it takes is for a show to get cancelled or reconceptualized, and they’re back on the streets again, hustling for work. I know a couple of them – smart, funny women who clamber nimbly from one short-lived job to another, struggling to keep up their health insurance and self-respect.
But my selfish hope here is that the screenwriters’ action will call attention to the plight of writers in general. Since I started in the freelancing business about 30 years ago, the per-word payment for print articles has remained exactly the same in actual, non-inflation-adjusted, dollars. Three dollars a word was pretty much top of the line, and it hasn’t gone up by a penny. More commonly in the old days, I made a dollar a word, requiring me to write three or four 1000-word pieces a month to supply the children with their bagels and pizza. One for Mademoiselle on “The Heartbreak Diet.” One for Ms. on “The Bright Side of the Man Shortage.” One for Mother Jones on pharmaceutical sales scams, and probably a book review thrown in.
There was a perk, of course – the occasional free lunch on an editor’s expense account. These would occur in up-market restaurants where the price of lunch for two would easily exceed my family’s weekly food budget, but I realized it would be gauche to bring a plastic baggie for the rolls. My job was to pitch story ideas over the field greens and tuna tartare, all the while marveling at the wealth that my writing helped generate, which, except for the food on my plate, went largely to someone other than me.
For print writers, things have gone steadily downhill. The number of traditional outlets—magazines and newspapers – is shrinking. Ms., for example, publishes only quarterly now, Mother Jones every two months, and Mademoiselle has long since said au revoir. You can blog on the Web of course, but that pays exactly zero. As for benefits: once the National Writers’ Union offered health insurance, but Aetna dropped it and then Unicare found writers too sickly to cover. (You can still find health insurance, however, at http://www.freelancersunion.org/
So, you may be thinking, who needs writers anyway? The truth is, no one needs any particular writer, just as no one needs any particular auto worker, stage-hand, or janitor. But take us all away and TV’s funny men will be struck mute, soap opera actors will be reduced to sighing and grunting, CNN anchors will have to fill the whole hour with chit chat about the weather, all greeting cards will be blank. Newspapers will consist of advertisements and movie listings; the Web will collapse into YouTube. A sad, bewildered, silence will come over the land.
Besides, anyone who’s willing to stand up to greedy bosses deserves our support. A victory for one group, from Ford workers to stage-hands, raises the prospects for everyone else. Who knows? If the screenwriters win, maybe some tiny measure of respect will eventually trickle down even to bloggers. So in further solidarity with striking writers, I’m going to shut up right now.

While Barbara E. is essentially correct that blogging is a labor of love, my own experience proves it can pay slighly higher than "exactly zero." Over the last few months, I've had enough money donated by friends of this blog (using the handy paypal button to the right) to cover at least 15 days of high-speed internet charges!! :)

Fraudex Action page!!

We'll have a lot more on recent shenanigans at FraudEx later.... For now, I encourage all of my readers to let the company know how you feel directly-- using this handy-dandy action page set up by the great folks at ARAW! http://action.americanrightsatwork.org/campaign/fedup?rk=R7xc3UY106NEE

All of the FraudEx drivers give you many thanks!!

John Edwards pickets at NBC

Show some love to any writers you know who are out on strike!!:)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Light of Truth

I just witnessed a moment-- in the televised Democratic presidential candidate from Las Vegas-- that confirmed my original suspicion that Barack Obama, and John Edwards, are swimming upstream in their race to catch Hillary Clinton before the upcoming votes in Iowa and New Hampshire.

I've already said how I find Edwards' uncompromising positions on many issues put him on the top of my list of Democratic hopefuls. His policy positions are no better(or worse) than those of Dennis Kucinich, but he, unlike Kucinich, has the political chops to motivate voters to go to the polls. Barack Obama has hedged his bets a few too many times, in recent months, for me to know precisely where he stands on some key questions.

It was Barack Obama, however, and not John Edwards, who put a fundamental difference between Hillary Clinton's campaign and her top two challengers squarely in the spotlight. The moment came after Sen. Clinton justified her reluctance to consider "raising the cap" on Social Security taxes above the current $97.5K limit. She doesn't want to fix Social Security on the backs of our "middle class and seniors," was the formula she repeated from earlier debates. This time, Sen. Obama didn't let that slide: "Only six percent of Americans have incomes higher than 97.5 thousand dollars. These people are not 'middle class.'" Sen. Obama pointed out how paying Social Security taxes only on the first $97.5K means that super-rich billionaires, like Warren Buffet, are contributing towards Social Security from only a tiny fraction of their wealth.

Nearly all of the lobbyists and affluent, private citizens who have poured money into Sen. Clinton's campaign are also not middle class. Nearly all of the media folks who show up on our T.V. screens to analyze the political campaigns are not "middle class." Yet, if you were to speak with an orthodontist who earned between $180K - $250K last year, you'd be hard pressed to get her to admit she's wealthy. "Comfortable," maybe.

Why does any of this matter? Only because, on issues ranging from health-care and education, to free-trade agreements, perpetuating the myth that you can earn six figures and still be in the "middle" class distorts the debate. For example: a two-income $60k family of four without health insurance suffers a real insecurity far greater than a $200k family of four without health insurance. A major health catastrophe could be devastating to either family, of course, but the latter family can obtain routine health services and pay for them out-of-pocket without going bankrupt. There can't be an honest debate over domestic policies in this country if we accept the myth that an orthodontist/lawyer two income household is pretty much equivalent to a teacher/short-order cook two income household!

Unless and until Obama and Edwards can make this point clearly over the heads of the media talking heads, Hillary Clinton will be able to rake in money from the wealthy while purporting to stand for the "middle class."

Monday, November 12, 2007

Enraged, but not engaged?

Recently the Boston Globe published this little piece by Archon Fung ,that encourages all of us here in the U.S. to become more involved in public affairs. In particular, Fung points to John Edwards' proposal for a "Citizens Congress."

The idea that government should talk directly to citizens about political issues, and that citizens should talk to each other, has the potential to reinvigorate American democracy. Citizen participation through influential assemblies such as Citizen Congresses would address three critical failings of the political system.
First, people often have conflicting values, contradictory preferences, and misinformed views. Many want both low taxes and good schools, healthcare, and smooth roads. Well-organized deliberations can provide citizens with accurate, balanced information and help people reach what Daniel Yankelovich called sound "public judgment." Through deliberation, citizens with conflicting priorities and views can come to appreciate the reasons and arguments of the other side.
In a prelude to the current healthcare debate, for example, the state of Oregon expanded its public health insurance program to cover many more low-income families several years ago. With limited funds, however, Oregonians faced important trade-offs: should kidney replacement, end-of-life therapy, or preventative care take priority?
Instead of settling the matter by legislative wrangling or some back-room deal between patient advocates and health industry lobbyists, hundreds of Oregonians met in an extended series of community meetings. Values such as maintaining quality of life and preventing diseases emerged as priorities. In part because the citizens' recommendations guided the subsequent healthcare plan, it enjoyed a level of public support that eluded Senator Hillary Clinton in the 1990s and other would-be healthcare reformers since.
Second, the political system produces many laws and policies that favor a few special interests at the expense of the majority of Americans: manufacturers over consumers; those in the education business over students and parents; medical providers and insurers over patients and their families; and politicians over voters. With the rules governing elections, voters have an interest in creating competitive elections to motivate candidates to represent them well. Sitting politicians have a strong interest in creating rules such as electoral district boundaries that get them reelected. In part because politicians, not voters, make the rules of democracy, congressional incumbents who seek reelection win 98 percent of the time.
When the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Ontario sought to reform their electoral systems recently, they created Citizens' Assemblies to develop new voting rules rather than having politicians decide. The British Columbia Assembly had 160 members and 103 people participated in the Ontario Assembly. In both cases, members were randomly selected, like juries in the United States. Each assembly met for several months. Their final recommendations were not merely advisory; they went straight to voters in popular referendums.
Third, Americans increasingly distrust their political system and find it illegitimate. In a March 2007 poll by The Pew Charitable Trusts, only 34 percent of Americans said that they believe government "cares about what people like me think," down from 47 percent in 1987. According to a July 2007 CBS News/NYT Poll, the percentage of Americans who thinks you can trust the government in Washington to do what is right "just about always" or "most of the time" has declined to 24 percent in 2007 from around 75 percent in the early 1960s. In 1969, only 29 percent of Americans agreed that "the government is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves" rather than "for the benefit of all." By 2004, that figure had risen to 56 percent.
If they become prominent and credible, Citizen congresses and assemblies have the potential to help connect Americans to their government and increase trust in public institutions. If Americans see each other deliberating sensibly about critical issues and public leaders heed what they say, it will be palpable evidence that government really does care about what ordinary people think.
Political leaders in Canada, Britain, Brazil, and many other countries have already recognized the potential of public participation and instituted important new ways for citizens to influence government. Rather than being the world leader in democracy, America is lagging behind in its democratic imagination and ingenuity. Edwards's proposal marks an important, if modest, step to catch up. Perhaps it will empower ordinary Americans in the political process and, eventually, make America an example of democracy that is truly worth following.

In addition to becoming "prominent and credible," these congresses and assemblies will strengthen our democracy through becoming routine. So often we see an impressive spike in public engagement of citizens during moments of NIMBY panic, only to witness all of this energy dissipate, as soon as the local or regional issue that fired everyone up is resolved.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Kudos to Kennedy

In recent weeks, I, and many other political bloggers, have given a lot of well-deserved props to our junior Senator from Rhode Island, Sheldon Whitehouse. Our entire state is very lucky to have Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse doing such good work on our behalf in Washington, D.C. Yet my family is also blessed to live in the congressional distict represented by Patrick Kennedy. For such a young man, Patrick Kennedy already has a considerable record of achievement on a number of different policy issues. In my eyes, though, he has shown the most courageous leadership in the area of healthcare. By publicly discussing how the great challenges his own struggle with bipolar disorder (a policy of candor he adopted long before his recent, unfortunate car crash) have affected his own life, he's won some credibility for his cause of improving treatment, and expanding options, for those afflicted with mental illness.

So kudos to Kennedy, here's hoping for a successful outcome for his legislative initiative!

Mental-health parity bill moves forward
01:00 AM EDT on Wednesday, October 17, 2007
By John E. MulliganJournal Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — On a strong bipartisan vote in committee, U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy’s bill to improve medical coverage of mental illness was cleared for full House action as early as the end of this month.
On a 32-to-13 vote, the Energy and Commerce Committee passed the legislation, which would require insurers to cover mental illness and alcohol and drug abuse on the same footing as they cover other ailments.
The panel defeated a series of Republican amendments generally aimed at bringing the bill closer to the Senate-passed version, which is less specific in its instructions to the medical business about how to achieve “parity” of insurance coverage between mental illness and physical illness.

“I’m just thrilled about how this thing is going,” Representative Kennedy said during a break in yesterday’s debate — the sixth such legislative drafting session in a series of House committees and subcommittees that share jurisdiction over medical insurance issues.
Kennedy said the votes against Republican amendments inspired by the Senate bill “put us in a really strong position going into conference,” meaning the House-Senate legislative panel that would work out a compromise between the conflicting versions of the measure.
Republicans warned, however, that the Patrick Kennedy bill, coauthored by Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., would drive up costs and drive insurance companies away from mental-health coverage, frustrating the intent of the bill.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

lil'Bush, Cheney et al, less popular than salmonella!

Fantastic post by Dave Chandler over at Earthside:


A Dallas jury, a week ago, caused a mistrial in the government case against this country’s largest Islamic charity. The action raises a defiant fist on the sinking ship of American democracy.
If we lived in a state where due process and the rule of law could curb the despotism of the Bush administration, this mistrial might be counted a victory. But we do not. The jury may have rejected the federal government’s claim that the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development funneled millions of dollars to Middle Eastern terrorists. It may have acquitted Mohammad el-Mezain, the former chairman of the foundation, of virtually all criminal charges related to funding terrorism (the jury deadlocked on one of the 32 charges against el-Mezain), and it may have deadlocked on the charges that had been lodged against four other former leaders of the charity, but don’t be fooled. This mistrial will do nothing to impede the administration’s ongoing contempt for the rule of law. It will do nothing to stop the curtailment of our civil liberties and rights. The grim march toward a police state continues.
Constitutional rights are minor inconveniences, noisome chatter, flies to be batted away on the steady road to despotism. And no one, not the courts, not the press, not the gutless Democratic opposition, not a compliant and passive citizenry hypnotized by tawdry television spectacles and celebrity gossip, seems capable of stopping the process. Those in power know this. We, too, might as well know it.

This historic veto override this past week has seen a few more D.C. Republicans abandon the sinking ship of Cheney/Bush. Many of them just couldn't possibly bring themselves to vote against major infrastructure repairs in their home state. Yet my feeling is that at least a few of them have also correctly gauged the national mood-- the people aren't merely opposed to particular Bush policies. Some lifelong Republicans I've met have told me that they bitterly resent the Bushie junta's open disdain for the rule of law. Some folks-- who applauded when the Rethugs turned the regrettable Bill/Monica tryst into a national trauma-- now are truly sorry for the hypocritical behavior of Bush and his minions: destroying rights and liberties everywhere in the name of keeping us Americans' free!.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Fraudex Update: Northboro, MA

Chapter 1: Fraudex talks tough, throughout the spring, summer, and fall of 2007-- claiming they welcome the chance to have their day in court and defend themselves against charges levelled by the Bush-appointed NLRB. Now, this Republican NLRB is the most anti-union NLRB in the history of the agency. When they file charges against a company, you know that company has violated even late 19th century standards of labor relations.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007 FedEx denies claims, Union alleges unfair practices

By Martin Luttrell TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFFmluttrell@telegram.com

NORTHBORO— FedEx Home Delivery has denied allegations by the Teamsters union that it harassed and fired drivers at its Lyman Street terminal for taking part in union organizing activity. In a nine-page response to complaints brought March 30 by the National Labor Relations Board, the company denied that it engaged in unfair labor practices, and took issue with allegations by Teamsters Local 170 in Worcester that the drivers were company employees. FedEx considers the drivers to be independent contractors. The complaint alleges that the company pressured delivery drivers to admit if they had attended union meetings, planned on joining and to inform on others who supported the union. Workers who testified at an earlier NLRB hearing to determine if the workers were company employees or independent contractors were also threatened by the company, the complaint alleges.

We believe these allegations are false, and look forward to the opportunity to have the issue heard before the board this summer,” said Maury S. Lane, a FedEx spokesman at the company’s headquarters in Memphis, Tenn. A hearing into the complaint will begin June 18 at the NLRB’s office in Boston. Michael P. Hogan, secretary-treasurer for Local 170, said the union is prepared for a long fight. “You would think nothing ever happened at FedEx, that there was no organizing drive,” Mr. Hogan said. “It will be interesting to see how that plays out. We’ve seen what the workers have gone through, and it’s atrocious. “To this day, FedEx won’t even come to the conclusion that that these folks are employees. We’re anxious, but we know it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” The company said that it did not fire employees, but rather, terminated its contractual relationships with the four drivers. “There can be no violation as a matter of law because the alleged discriminatees are not employees, and are therefore excluded from coverage…” the company’s April 13 response states. The company took the actions for “legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons unrelated to any contractor’s alleged union activity or affiliation,” the response continues. Mr. Hogan said 95 percent of the drivers signed union cards in November 2005. A vote to determine if the Teamsters would be the drivers’ collective bargaining unit, set for February 2006, was postponed.

Chapter 2:

Fraudex forced the U.S. taxpayers to spend a lot of money for the NLRB to prepare a trial, because, as they claim again and again, Fraudex knows labor law better-- than any labor lawyer, state or federal judge.

Up to the day before the trial was scheduled to start, FedEx consistently pronounces its own innocence, and puts forward eagerness to get the true story out as its only motive for appealing beyond the regional Labor Relations Board to Washington D.C. Somehow FedEx changed its mind on "getting the truth out." They settled out of court-- to keep details from the public eye, and to avoid risking a negative judgement.

Chapter 2: Too little, too late?

FedEx Corporation [NYSE: FDX] subsidiary FedEx Home Delivery has agreed to pay five former and present drivers a total $253,000 to settle a series of unfair labor charges brought by the National Labor Relations Board against the company.
The five drivers-four former and one present driver-all worked in the Northboro, Massachusetts Home Delivery terminal and were union supporters in a unionization drive in 2005 and 2006 by Teamsters Local 170. The NLRB also ordered an election in Northboro for February 2008.
"FedEx has delayed this process long enough and the Northboro drivers will get their right to vote," said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. "I'm outraged at FedEx's treatment of these workers. This small amount of compensation is not enough to undo the damage that FedEx has done to their lives."
The unionization effort centered on the employee status of the drivers in the Northboro facility. The drivers gave sworn testimony to the NLRB that FedEx Home Delivery controlled their daily work like employees but called them "independent contractors."
The NLRB ruled that the drivers were employees and ordered an election that was to take place in January 2006. FedEx Home Delivery then illegally harassed, intimidated terminated the four former drivers to prevent a legal union election. The NLRB charged FedEx in a June 2007 consolidated complaint with numerous unfair labor practice charges for the illegal acts. The October 25 settlement between the drivers the company came out of the NLRB charges.
"We backed the company right against the wall because we stood up to management and had all the answers when it came to their anti-union meetings," said driver Richard Lacina. "FedEx paid me thousands of dollars because they violated my rights and I am still employed as a driver. This shows everybody the power of the Teamsters Union and what it can do for you."
Teamsters Local 170 and the company also agreed to schedule an election at the Northboro facility as a result of NLRB charges. The election is to occur on February 1, 2008.
"The Teamsters have stuck by these workers and the five drivers at least got some degree of justice," said Teamsters Local 170 Secretary-Treasurer Mike Hogan. "The Northboro drivers have seen the worst that FedEx can throw at them, and in the end the workers will have their vote to take control of their lives and their future."
FedEx Home Delivery drivers at three facilities in Wilmington, Massachusetts and Windsor, Connecticut already voted for Teamster representation in 2006 and 2007. FedEx ignored NLRB orders to bargain and appealed previous NLRB rulings to the U.S. Court of Appeal District of Columbia Circuit.
A recent report by
American Rights at Work and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights document the anti-union campaign and patterns of discrimination at FedEx Ground and Home Delivery in Northboro and elsewhere.

Stay tuned...

Monday, November 5, 2007

Spun out of control

Our Wild Western friend, The Existentialist Cowboy, has a fantastic post on why any U.S. PR offensive now launched is doomed to failure:

At a time when some 70% of Iraqis believe security has deteriorated in those "areas covered by the US military 'surge'", Bush efforts to define those thrown into any US facility as "terrorist" is absurd. An arbitrary exception to Due Process is thus made for people "accused" of being terrorist, though they are never formally "accused" or charged. They just "are". Bush says so.Terrorism is whatever Bush says it is. Terrorism should be dealt with by intelligence personnel and law enforcement. "Terrorism" as consisting of specific, prosecutable crimes should be treated like any other intelligence and law enforcement problem. It is understandable that Bush would not want to do so. To so treat those crimes robs him of the power he seeks. It deprives him of the various pre-texts he needs to wage war on the world. Free of "terrorist" distractions, the utterly failed and corrupt nature of Bush's miserable regime would become apparent even to his corrupt GOP base.

This corrupt Cheney/Bush regime never stood for much. Now it is merely lurching here and there in a desperate attempt to ensure its own survival. The big lie, however, has been exposed. The war crimes of these sick puppies are not in any way related to a genuine "war on terror." A genuine "war on terror," would combine very narrowly focussed attempts to bring down some real terrorist monsters like Osama bin Laden (hint to CIA: he isn't currently living in either Iraq or Iran), with a dramatic attempt to win the hearts and minds of the world by beginning to genuinely address the real, and perceived, inequities that poison so many minds against the U.S.

What the Cheney/Bush junta has established, however, is something very different. They have created (in classic 1984 Orwellian style) a permanent war mobilization as a pretext for hijacking a free country and turning it into a police state. This process is only in its early phases. If we are "allowed" to hold free and fair elections in 2008, and (unlike in 2000) actually install the new government we elect-- then, maybe our constitutional republic can be restored. Remember folks: eternal vigilance is the price of liberty!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Waterboarding: just a "vigorous" way to get a bath?

Thers quotes the NYT's presentation of our Commuter and Thief''s brilliant argument about why it was vital to keep secret whether or not waterboarding was used by our interrogators:

When Mr. Bush was asked whether he considered waterboarding illegal, he said he would not discuss specific methods used in the interrogation of suspected terrorists. “It doesn’t make any sense to tell the enemy whether we use those techniques or not,” he said.

Then Thers goes on to prove once again why his blog should be required therapy-- for all of us driven close to the edge by this insane Cheney/Bush administration:

Ya know, with all due respect to the preznit (and I do mean all due respect), I gotta say, I kinda think the cat's out of the bag on the "do we use waterboarding" question. I don't know for sure, but I have a hunch Al Qaeda's picked up on this one.
Suspected Al Qaeda Terrorist About to Be Waterboarded: (smacking forehead) Good grief! Boy, I just did not see this coming! (Chuckles ruefully) You guys. If only I'd had time to prepare for this, I'd be able to keep mum about those plans to bomb the nuclear power plant! (Flings hand over mouth) Whoopsie!
Interrogators: Ha ha, caught you, Achmed!
Achmed: Outwitted again! You boys from the USA are too smart for our dusky asses! (Laughs) Well, might as well go ahead with the waterboarding, though. I can't complain about the facilities here, fellas, but I could use a bit of a bath.
Interrogator: Well, it is quite pleasant, and not at all torture! Here ya go!
Achmed: (Giving a big smile and a hearty thumbs up as his lungs fill with fluid) Glug!
(Credits roll to happy applause of studio audience)
Or something. Anyway, having to listen to rationales for torture as idiotic as this being offered by a grownup, never mind the President of the United States of America, is a form of torture all by itself, if you're at all possessed of even a vestigial brain and conscience.

Were you a screenwriter in another life, Thers?!?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Waterboarding: Torture or valuable Sport for Prisoners needing Exercise?

Thanks to his opposition to Mukasey, Sheldon Whitehouse, our own junior Senator from Rhode Island, has been gaining a devoted following out here in the blogosphere. Here’s a recent evaluation from Joe Palermo:

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, a former federal prosecutor and one of the best of the class elected to the Senate in 2006, eloquently asked the simple question on the Senate floor yesterday: "Whence cometh our strength as a nation?""Our strength comes from the fact that we stand for something. Our strength comes from the aspirations of millions around the globe who want to be like us, who want their country to be like ours. Our strength comes when we embody the hopes and dreams of mankind."Senator Whitehouse then went on to ask: "Will we trust our ideals?" Or "will we join that gloomy historical line leading from the Inquisition, through the prisons of tyrant regimes, through the gulags and dark cells, and through Saddam Hussein's torture chambers? Will that be the path we choose?"

Unfortunately, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have already chosen the path through the darkness of which Senator Whitehouse speaks. The question now is whether Senators from both political parties have the moral conscience and the will to stand up to an Administration that is determined to flout the rule of law and has already set our nation back decades in its relations to the rest of the world. Stubbornly holding on to the "right" of federal employees or contractors to torture people graphically symbolizes just how far we've descended as a nation under George Bush's rule.

Yet, as Jon Ponder points out in the Pensito Review, it is Ted Kennedy, Senator Whitehouse's veteran colleague from the neighboring Commonwealth of Massachusetts, who has called on his command of history to put this waterboarding issue in its proper context:

after World War II, the United States government was quite clear about the fact that waterboarding was torture, at least when it was done to U.S. citizens:
[In] 1947, the United States charged a Japanese officer, Yukio Asano, with war crimes for carrying out another form of waterboarding on a U.S. civilian. The subject was strapped on a stretcher that was tilted so that his feet were in the air and head near the floor, and small amounts of water were poured over his face, leaving him gasping for air until he agreed to talk.
“Asano was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) told his colleagues last Thursday during the debate on military commissions legislation. “We punished people with 15 years of hard labor when waterboarding was used against Americans in World War II,” he said.
Mukasey’s non-answer has
raised doubts among Democrats, and even some Republicans, on the Senate Judiciary Committee:
[The] Democrats on the committee signed a joint letter to Mukasey, making sure that he knew what’s involved, and demanded an answer to the question as to whether waterboarding is torture.
Then two days later, the doubts grew louder. Two key Democrats, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT ) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) both said publicly that their votes depended on Mukasey’s answer to the waterboarding question.
Then it was Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) who saw an opening after Rudy Giuliani refused to call waterboarding torture (”It depends on who does it.”). Most certainly it’s torture, McCain said. When pressed, he stopped short of saying that he would oppose Mukasey’s nomination if he didn’t say the same, but he added to the chorus of those who professed to be interested in what Mukasey’s answer to follow-up questions will be.

Yesterday, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) said that if Mukasey “does not believe that waterboarding is illegal, then that would really put doubts in my own mind.”
[Sen.] Arlen Specter (R-PA) has also thrown in his lot of doubts and concerns.
Of course, if the past is a guide, Mukasey will easily win nomination, and nearly all these senators who have expressed concern will vote for him.Waterboarding has become an isssue because the Bush White House signed off on it as an interrogation technique — and thus moved the United States into the company of pariah states that permit torture — after the 9/11 attacks.

This really is a sad moment in our national history... an impeachment trial of Sick Cheney might cheer us all up!!!